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Top 5 Best Functional Exercises for Seniors

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An older adult man planking on an exercise mat while looking at his laptop.

As we age, staying active becomes even more important for maintaining independence and a high quality of life. Functional exercises can help! 

These exercises mimic everyday movements like picking up groceries or climbing stairs. They work multiple muscle groups at once, improving your strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility.

Here are the top 5 functional exercises you can do to stay fit and healthy.

5 functional exercises for seniors include:

  1. Squats
  2. Rowing
  3. Hip hinge
  4. Farmer’s walk
  5. Swimming

1. Squats: Standing & Sitting

We stand and sit every day, so it’s important to keep these movements strong. Squats work multiple muscle groups at once, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core.


To do a squat:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and slowly lower yourself down as if you’re sitting in a chair.
  2. Keep your chest up​​ and your weight in your heels.
  3. Push through your heels to stand back up.


You can use a chair or wall for support to make squats easier. Or add weights or do jump squats to make them more challenging.

2. Rowing: Pulling & Pulling

We push and pull to open doors, lift things, and reach for items every day. Strengthening our back muscles with rowing exercises can help prevent injuries and improve posture.


Sit on the edge of a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Hold your arms out in front of you, palms facing down. Pull your elbows back, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Then, release and repeat.


For an extra challenge, try using resistance bands or weights while performing this exercise.

3. Hip Hinge: Bending Over

Picking things up safely is important. Hip hinges strengthen your core and back to avoid straining while bending. This exercise helps improve balance and strengthens the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.


Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your spine neutral as you slowly bend forward at the hips until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Then return to a standing position.


Try holding dumbbells or adding small pulses while bent over for an added challenge. You can also try this exercise using a stability ball against a wall for support. Remember to always maintain good form and control throughout the movement.

4. Farmer’s Walk: Carrying

Carrying heavy objects is a functional movement we do almost every day. This exercise helps strengthen your grip, arms, shoulders, and core and makes carrying groceries or luggage a breeze.


Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding 2 dumbbells or kettlebells at your side. Keep your chest up and shoulders back as you walk forward for a certain distance or time. Remember to keep a neutral spine and engage your core throughout the movement.


To make this exercise more challenging, increase the weights or walk on an uneven surface like grass or sand. You can also switch up the direction of the walk by going backward or sideways. 

As you get stronger, try increasing the duration of your plank or adding variations such as side planks or alternating leg lifts.

A senior in swim goggles and a cap swimming in a pool to build his strength and endurance.

5. Swimming: Endurance & Balance

Swimming is a fantastic full-body exercise that builds endurance, strengthens your arms, back, core, and legs, improves balance, and helps reduce your fall risk. It’s also low impact, making it an excellent option for those with joint pain or injuries. 


To start, stand in chest-deep water and begin moving your arms and legs in a coordinated motion, similar to the freestyle stroke. To reap the full benefits of swimming, aim for at least 30 minutes of continuous swimming each session.

Don’t have access to a pool? No problem! Many gyms offer aqua aerobics classes that can provide similar benefits, or visit a swim spa or join a local community pool.


For a more intense workout, incorporate different strokes, like butterfly or backstroke. You can also do intervals of fast and slow swimming to increase your heart rate and use swimming equipment, such as kickboards or pool noodles, to add resistance and challenge.

Work on Your Body Now

These 5 functional exercises offer various benefits, from strengthening core muscles to improving cardiovascular health and enhancing balance. It’s crucial to start low and slow and gradually build up resistance and duration. 

Always consult a healthcare professional or your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen, and consider working with a fitness trainer who specializes in senior fitness to ensure your routine is safe and effective. 

At The Lodge at Historic Lewes, we offer a variety of exercise classes and programs specifically designed for seniors. Our experienced instructors can tailor exercises to meet your individual needs and abilities, making it easier to achieve your fitness goals.

Book a tour of our beautiful community and experience what we offer today!

Written by The Lodge at Historic Lewes

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